by Shane Eubank April 21, 2019
We went to bed late last Wednesday having finished packaging up orders and chatting with customers as we so often do, feeling spent but satisfied. As entrepreneurs we are not all about that work/life balance: we know that in order to build and maintain a solid reputation in our industry many days will be all work. The satisfaction that comes with being able to make a customer happy, change the quality of their experience, encourage those people who are still dual users to keep trying, and just generally deal with such great people from all walks of life makes all of the work more than worthwhile. We got into this industry as many people did: as people who were able to stop smoking by making the switch to vaping. We are beyond happy to put in the hours.
So when I woke up Thursday to yet another Health Canada consultation announcement, “on new ways to reduce youth vaping”, it felt like a kick in the teeth. We’re trying, the whole industry is trying, to provide smokers with an alternative that is proven to be 95% safer than smoking. Many of us have put everything that we have into our businesses and continue to reinvest every dollar back into our operations. We eat, breathe and sleep our business. And yes, we do our utmost to keep vaping out of the hands of teenagers, despite what the media would have you believe.
In fact, youth were the first people we sacrificed. So many of us (with our own stories of having started smoking at very early ages) willingly, happily, decided as an industry to not serve anyone under the age of majority- smoker or not. And we did that before there were any regulations in place. Our own shop pays extra, as many do, to have Canada Post (a Crown corporation) to verify age upon delivery. Save adult smokers now, let the kiddos smoke another year or two before we offer them an option. Fine.
But the kids got their hands on vapes, as kids are apt to do, and now we have people throwing the word “epidemic” around as if it has no real meaning. If you have kids, you know (or suspect) that they’re up to all sorts of things you’d rather they weren’t. Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, sexting, bullying, shoplifting, vandalism, the list goes on. (Don’t even start with the, “not my kid.”) But somehow vaping has risen to the highest order of concern. And I can even kind of get my head around the moral panic that has ensued. Our kids are precious, we want to protect them, it just seems that the world is throwing more at them all the time and it’s hard not to get worked up. Especially when something seems like an easy target compared to bigger, more existential threats.
And the industry is reacting in a predictable way: we’re defensive (of course we want to protect your kids, we’ve always endeavoured to), and we’re afraid of losing everything that we have (which in many cases is a whole lot of debt, blood, sweat and tears). But these two things put together are a horrible combination for combating a very real threat to the industry and to a technology that shows tremendous promise to disrupt the cigarette addiction that has impacted our societies for generations.
It’s frustrating. I’m seeing suggestions in advocacy and other vape groups of throwing this or that group under the bus, of nasty comments directed at parents who are providing kids with vapes (remember when we said the same about parents giving their kids condoms?), of restricting sales to those companies who can afford expensive licensing, of restricting types of devices, and so on and so on. The more panic is generated, the more creative the suggestions from within our own industry. But it’s like when you hear a group of citizens complain that “we can’t give money to that cause if we can’t support this one.” It never results in both causes getting funding, it results in neither receiving support. There is no winning formula here.
If I could get through one thing to people ‘advocating’ for vaping it would be this: There is no sacrificial goat large enough that you will be able to appease the regulatory gods. Be careful what you do to save yourself. The current consultation is said to consider several possibilities that might have been taken verbatim from suggestions that I saw within vape groups: “Potential measures include additional restrictions for online sales, prohibiting the manufacture of vaping products with certain flavours or flavour ingredients, and restricting the concentration and/or delivery of nicotine in vaping products.”
It is imperative that we consider our next moves carefully. I am already seeing suggestions for new regulations crop up in groups, of projects undertaken to assess restrictions that may appeal to government, accusations of who may be “the problem”. I am seeing people who undertook a life changing event, to get into the industry because they (presumably) believed in it, now recommend expensive licensing or age verification schemes that would all but eliminate small vendors. The kind of vendors they once were... And smaller vendors cowed into agreeing, lest they seem lax or uncaring about “the industry as a whole.”
Fine, we can’t do nothing, but what about responding with our own demands instead of a list of concessions? What about continuing to counter propaganda with facts? Even more, insisting that government involve itself with countering “fake news” about vaping. (Hint: they could start with not promoting it.) It is more than a little ironic that this consultation concerns itself with public health all the while putting forward ideas that would have the opposite effect.We will submit our own proposal to Health Canada, as we did last time, but it will not involve suggestions to further restrict access or options beyond what we have already agreed to. We are in this for the same reasons we started: to make vaping as widely available to smokers as possible, as publicly supported as it should be, and to help prevent future generations from the life-sucking, health-robbing addiction that is cigarette smoking.
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